A Very Personal Diplomacy
Peace does not come through wishing for it. There is no substitute for days and even years of patient and prolonged diplomacy.
-- Richard M. Nixon, in his Inaugural Address, January 20, 1969
It was Melvin Robert Laird, pragmatist and realist, who in the new Nixon administration perceived the realities in Vietnam. Laird, as Secretary of Defense, approached the delicate, difficult problem of getting American soldiers out of Vietnam like a ferocious bulldog gnawing on a bone; he couldn't let it alone. It consumed his energies, stretched his imagination and made him something of a terror to the nonpolitical advisers on foreign policy whom Nixon had surrounded himself with -- principally Harvard history professor and long-time adviser to Presidents, Henry M. Kissinger.
"Mel?" Kissinger mused long months later when asked about Laird. "Mel is a rascal, but a good rascal."
Laird had carefully started to build his case for a rapid U.S. pullout long before he dreamed he would go to the Pentagon, long before the election, long before even the Republican National Convention at Miami Beach. As the powerful chairman of the House Republican Caucus, his politically sensitive antenna was sending out quiet vibrations as early as February 1966, when Senator Robert F. Kennedy infuriated President Lyndon Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and the entire foreign and military policy team then in power with his proposal for a coalition government in Saigon.